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Can I restore my firearm rights in Washington if I have been committed to a mental health facility?

Unfortunately, the answer is NO in practice.  

Washington State Law:  YES you can restore your rights

Washington law prohibits you from possessing a firearm if you have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or you were found to be incompetent to stand trial.  

Under RCW 9.41.047, however, you can restore your state firearm rights if you can prove by a preponderance of the evidence the following:

  • You are no longer required to participate in court-ordered mental health treatment 
  • You have successfully managed your mental health condition
  • You no longer present a "substantial danger" to yourself or others 
  • Your mental health conditions are "not reasonably likely to occur"

To restore your rights, you must return to the original court that ordered you to treatment or found you incompetent and file your petition.  And if you meet the four (4) requirements listed above, a Washington court should grant your motion and restore your firearm rights.

Federal Law: NO you cannot restore your rights

Federal law also prohibits you from possessing a firearm if you've received mental health treatment or have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. 

The specific law, 18 U.S.C. 1922(g)(4) states that that you cannot own or possess a firearm if you have been "adjudicated as a mental defective" or "been committed to a mental institution."

Sounds similar to the Washington law, right?  So you would reasonably assume that meeting the rehabilitative requirements of RCW 9.41.047 would satisfy the criteria under 18 U.S.C. 1922(g)(4).

Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said no in a recent case decided in March 2020.

In Mai v. United States, the Court compared the two applicable statutes--RCW 9.41.047 and 18 U.S.C. 1922(g)(4)--and ruled that the federal law is more strict than the state law.  

For example:  Washington law requires a a judge to find that a person "no longer presents a substantial danger" to others whereas federal law requires a judge to determination that a person "will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety."  

In other words, you could be a danger and be ineligible to possess firearms under federal law but not be a substantial danger and therefore be eligible to possess firearms under Washington law.  

But that's not all.  There's no way for a Washington resident to overcome the federal legal barrier under 1922(g)(4).  Here's why.  

In some states, you can petition the local government to sign an order stating that you have overcome the federal legal barrier.  But the federal government won't recognize the state order unless the state order complies with federal law, and as the Ninth Circuit ruled, Washington's state program doesn't.


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